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Lenovo ThinkPad T410s with NVIDIA Optimus Review
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Date: Dec 22, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction


Lenovo recently celebrated the milestone of selling 60 million ThinkPad notebooks. That's a ThinkPad for every person in the United Kingdom, to put it in perspective. Moreover, the PC maker claims these things sell like electronic hotcakes, to the tune of 14 per minute.  Those are iPad sort of rates.  But Lenovo doesn't reach these types of numbers by selling outdated hardware spruced up with brushed aluminum, and clever marketing. The company targets tech-savvy business consumers and home users who want light, durable notebooks that offer extended battery life built with the latest technology.


The notebook we're reviewing today is an improvement over the original T410 we reviewed earlier this year. The latest iteration offers consumers a feature that gives it an important advantage over the majority of laptops on the market. The ThinkPad T410s is the first model from Lenovo to offer NVIDIA Optimus technology which provides users with seamless switching between discrete GPU performance and the power saving benefits associated with integrated graphics.

It features a 14 inch LED backlit screen with a native resolution of 1440 x 900, Intel Core i5 560M processor, NVIDIA NVS3100M graphics, 128GB Toshiba SSD, and a total weight under 4 lbs.  Less than an inch thick, the T410s is one of the thinnest, lightest, and most advanced 14" notebooks we've ever tested.  Without a doubt, the specs are great, but exactly how well does it perform? Keep reading to find out. 

Lenovo ThinkPad T410s Notebook
Specifications & Features
   

Model

T410s

Display

14" (1440 x 900)

CPU

Intel Core i5 560M 2.66GHz

Memory

4GB DDR3-1066 7-7-7-20 1T

Graphics

Intel HD Integrated Graphics
Nvidia NVS3100M Graphics

Storage

Toshiba 128GB SSD
THNS128GG4BAAA-N

Optical

CD-RW/DVD Burner
Matshita UJ892

Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium x64

Wireless

Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200
802.11 a / b / g / n

Webcam

2.0 Megapixel

Ports

2 x USB 2.0
1 x eSATA/USB Combo
1 x VGA
1 x DisplayPort
1 x RJ45
32mm Express Card
Combo Microphone in / Audio out

Battery

6 Cell

Weight

3.91 lbs

Dimensions

13.3" x 9.5" x 0.83" (WxDxH)

Warranty

1 Year

Price

$1779


Lenovo ThinkPad T410S NVIDIA Optimus and Multi-Display Output Demo

The configuration we tested as configured is currently priced at $1779, though there are certainly a multitude of options to choose from or omit, which can offer a lower price point.  Our model's price tag is relatively expensive as far as notebooks are concerned, but definitely in line with ultra mobile notebook models that feature similar high-end components. It's also worth mentioning that although we listed the standard warranty at 1 year, Lenovo offers up to 4 years of coverage at an additional cost. 

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Overall Design & Accessories

Let's get the obvious out of the way. The T410s is super thin (0.83 inches) and remarkably lightweight (3.91 lbs). In fact, it's noticeably thinner and lighter than the T410 released in April. If you're looking for a truly mobile notebook that won't weigh you down, this ThinkPad is an ultra portable notebook worth consideration.        



The T410s does nothing to draw attention. It's strictly business with minimal styling cues. While closed, we see a plain, matte black lid and a small ThinkPad logo on the bottom right corner. But besides the absence of style, the materials used to create the ThinkPad's shell offers scratch and finger print resistance like no other with a top-notch quality feel.



With the lid open, we find an extremely clean layout. Speakers are placed on both sides of the keyboard, while a large, textured touchpad is located below it. Like the lid, the palm rest and screen bezel won't show fingerprints easily.         



Lenovo ThinPad's have a reputation for great keyboards and the T410s delivers. There's the traditional textured trackpad and the heralded "nub" in the middle of the keyboard for those that prefer it. The blue "Enter" key is there, and the Fn and Ctrl keys have been "reversed" in typical Lenovo fashion.





The optical drive is located on the right side of the notebook. On the left, we find a USB 2.0 port and audio jack. No USB 3.0 connections? That's too bad.        



On the rear of the notebook, we find several I/O ports waiting patiently to be used. From left to right, we find a DC power jack, VGA port, RJ-45 ethernet jack, USB 2.0 port, USB/eSATA combo port, and a DisplayPort connection. It's worth noting here that Lenovo opts to omit the inclusion of an HDMI port, a relatively common connection for current laptops. It's an almost glaring omission these days actually, especially since, with NVIDIA's Optimus technology under the hood, this machine can offer solid multimedia capability over an HDMI output.



As with the T410, the T410s arrives with very little. You'll get the machine itself, an AC power adapter and an AC power cord and some instruction guides. No extras are tossed in per se.

On the software front, Windows 7 Professional is installed. Very little bloatware is included on top of the stock install of Windows 7, which is appreciated. Lenovo's connection suite is in there to manage the wireless connections, and a simple overlay on the bottom taskbar is included, but otherwise you won't notice any extra software from random third party vendors that you were never interested in from the start.

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NVIDIA Optimus Technology

NVIDIA's Optimus technology is enabled through a combination of custom hardware and software. What NVIDIA is calling the "Optimus Copy Engine" is integrated into all of their current 40nm GeForce 200M and 300M GPUs and upcoming Fermi-architecture based mobile products.

 
NVIDIA Optimus Copy Engine

With previous NVIDIA offerings that featured support for Hybrid SLI, which also allowed an NVIDIA IGP to display the output from a discrete GPU, elements of the GPU's 3D pipeline were used to copy frame buffer data to the IGP. This caused the 3D engine to stall during DMA operations. With the new Optimus Copy Engine, however, the 3D engines are not used and don't stall during the copy process.

As the Copy Engine's name suggests, its sole purpose is to copy frame buffer data from the discrete GPU, over the PCI Express interface to system memory, where it is then output to the display by the IGP. This operation may sound like it introduces significant latency, but we're told it is less than 3ms when operating at 60Hz. 

 
NVIDIA Optimus Software Implementation

On the software side, a few things had to happen to enable Optimus. First and foremost, Windows 7's ability to work with multiple graphics drivers simultaneously was a necessity. Vista only allowed graphics drivers from a single vendor to be installed at any given time. NVIDIA also implemented a few features in their drivers for Optimus. In the slide on the left, you'll see an indicator for the Optimus Routing layer. NVIDIA hasn't disclosed exactly how the routing laying works, but the software essentially detects certain calls an enables the discrete GPU when necessary. In addition, NVIDIA has also implemented application profiles in their driver--similar to SLI profiles. When a application is launched, if its profile recommends the use of the discrete GPU, it is fired up and takes over. While we're on the subject, we should also note, that when the discrete GPU is not being used, it can be completely shut down to a no-power state. 

NVIDIA has also implemented a new profile distribution system that will keep Optimus application profiles updated, without user intervention. Due to the fact that many notebook buyers are, shall we say, not so tech savvy, the likelihood that they'd update drivers regularly and keep the profile list up to date was slim. With that in mind, NVIDIA has put mechanisms in place to update Optimus application profiles in the background, much like anti-virus vendors update definitions. Users can also manually add applications to the list or enable the GPU with a simple right click of the shortcut. A context menu gives users the ability to run a particular application using the discrete GPU if they so choose.

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PCMark & 3DMark Testing

As we normally do, we kicked off our gauntlet of benchmarks with Futuremark's unforgiving PCMark Vantage benchmark and the less stringent 3DMark06 suite. At some point we'll likely drop the latter, but in the meantime, it gives us a quick point of reference as to how the T410s stacks up against previous notebooks we've had in our labs.

The notebook's 1440 x 900 native resolution did not meet the minimum required by 3DMark Vantage. So we connected an external monitor to run the DX10 benchmark in order to get some performance numbers.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Total System Performance


PCMark Vantage

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here, and most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.



 

The T410s jumped ahead of the competition in this benchmark. The wide performance gap is largely due to the 128GB SSD found on the Lenovo notebook, but the 2.66GHz Core i5 processor is definitely pulling its weight as well.


Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic Gaming Performance


3DMark06

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.

In 3DMark06, the T410s scored 3755 3DMarks, and a CPU score of 3069. That was enough to edge out both the Asus U43F (Core i5 450M 2.4GHz) and Dell XPS 14 (Core i5 460M 2.53GHz). 

 

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DX10 Performance


3DMark Vantage

Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.



With a score of P1121 3DMarks, the T410s has nothing to brag about. Of course, this is a business class notebook so we don't expect mind blowing gaming numbers. On the next page, let's see how well the T410s handles real gaming titles. 

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SiSoft SANDRA & Cinebench


SiSoft SANDRA 2011
GPU Number Crunching


SANDRA 2011

SiSoft SANDRA is an information and diagnostic utility. It provides useful information about your hardware, software, and other installed devices. SANDRA gives you the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low level. The SiSoftware GPGPU processing benchmark performs single- and double-precision floating point arithmetic on the GPU and the results are reported in pixels/s, i.e. how many pixels can be computed in 1 second.



Processor Arithmetic


Multi-Media


Memory Bandwidth
 
Physical Disks


SANDRA testing shows excellent performance in all areas. The SSD was particularly impressive, hitting 193MB/s read performance. 


Cinebench R11.5 64bit
OpenGL Performance

Cinebench R11.5

Cinebench R11.5 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. The benchmark goes through a series of tests that measures the performance of the graphics card and CPU under real world circumstances. Within Cinebench, graphics card testing makes use of a complex 3D scene depicting a car chase which measures the performance in OpenGL mode.

What's most impressive here is how well the Core i5 performs compared to the competition. On the other hand, the NVS3100M can't keep up in OpenGL rendering tasks. 

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Gaming & Battery Life

Tom Clancy's H. A. W. X. 2
 Gaming Performance


H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.

Like its predecessor, HAWX 2 isn't the most graphically challenging game you can run when using its low-quality settings. That's good news for the T410s, as we saw smooth game play all the way up to 4x AA.

 Dirt 2
 Gaming Performance


Dirt 2

Dirt 2 was released in September 2009 and provides a sequel to the original Colin McRae: Dirt racing game. Codemasters delayed the PC version of Dirt 2 so that they could enhance their Ego engine with DirectX 11 effects. Dirt 2 is also a solid benchmark for multi-core processors since DX11 is designed to take advantage of multi-threaded system architectures.

 

We saw an average frame rate of 31 FPS in Dirt 2, with ultra low settings and no anit-aliasing. It didn't run completely smooth at all times, but was playable for the most part.

S. T. A. L. K. E. R. - Call of Pripyat
 Gaming Performance


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the STALKER series and throws in DX11 to the mix. This benchmark is based on one of the locations found within the latest game. Testing includes four stages and utilizes various weather conditions, as well as different time of day settings. It offers a number of presets and options, including multiple versions of DirectX, resolutions, antialiasing, etc. SunShafts represents the most graphically challenging stage available.

In STALKER, the T410s recorded average frame rates of 23 FPS with minimum settings and no AA. Performance takes a serious hit when turning up AA so we recommend going without it.
 
Battery Performance
BatteryEater Pro

To test all battery life claims, we use the notebook benchmark tool Battery Eater Pro running in Classic mode and record the time it takes for the laptop to run out of power and shut down.


With Battery Eater Pro running, it took 108 minutes for the T401s to use up a full charge. The battery life we experienced was on par with Dell's XPS 14, which sports a Core i5 460M and NVIDIA Optimus infused graphics. Note that this benchmark puts a continuous load on the graphics card (the Intel IGP in this case), as well as the CPU so we consider this result as a "worst case" result. With a lighter workload combined with idle time periods, the T410s will keep its charge much longer due to the advantages offered by Optimus technology.  

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Across the board, we were satisfied with the performance of Lenovo's T410s. It offers a slightly faster Core i5 processor than the other 14" notebooks we've recently looked at. As such, its benchmark scores reflect that advantage. The inclusion of a 128GB solid state drive pays major dividends in the PCMark Vantage test, where the T410s performed extremely well. 

 

Configuring this system on Lenovo's web site takes the price of our review unit to $1779, before taxes and shipping. We also found the T410s with the same specs on Amazon for about $1500. Taking form factor, performance, and build quality into consideration, we feel the asking price represents a good value. Let's look at a couple of comparable notebooks to the ThinkPad T410s. After configuring a 14" HP EliteBook 8440p with the same components found on our review model, it rang in at $1912. Alternatively, we tracked down a 13" Sony Vaio Z Series notebook sporting a Core i5 460M processor, 4GB memory, 128GB SSD, and NVIDIA GT 330M graphics for $1899. Of course, all of these companies offer many options that will raise or lower the final price of the notebook. Just know that Lenovo T410s configurations are competitively priced compared to the competition.



So with everything taken into consideration, what do we think of the T410s? We think it offers adequate performance for business users by employing an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory, and a snappy 128GB Toshiba SSD. The NVIDIA NVS3100M is powerful enough to run multi-display setups, while delivering a stable environment for business applications. And while it won't run COD Black Ops with image quality settings cranked up, the T410s can handle some light gaming at 1440 x 900 resolution as well. Just use low settings and keep anti-aliasing turned off.

The Achilles heel of this notebook is the short up time provided by its 6-cell battery. If you take your work on the road often, an hour and a half of juice may not be enough time to get the job done. Just keep in mind that the battery life estimate we recorded should be considered the worst case scenario. We consider it an understandable trade off for an ultra portable notebook with these specs. The real question is if it's a shortcoming you're willing to deal with. With that said, if you're in the market for a light, thin, and rugged notebook specifically designed for business users, the Lenovo Thinkpad T410s is definitely worth checking out. 

 

  

  • NVIDIA Optimus technology
  • Core i5 560M processor
  • 128GB solid state drive
  • Lightweight
  • Very thin
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Relatively short battery life
  • No USB 3.0 ports
  • No HDMI output


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